More Americans Take Volunteer Vacations

ByABC News
January 26, 2007, 5:54 PM

Jan. 27, 2007 — -- When you think of teenagers on spring break, visions of Daytona Beach or Cancun may come to mind -- not necessarily a trip to Cambodia.

But that's where Kate McNamara, a 16-year-old New Yorker, went on vacation with her family, volunteering to teach children English and build wheelchairs for land mine victims.

"It wasn't that long and it was a small group of people but it made just such a huge difference, " she says. "It was one of the most rewarding things that I think that I've ever done."

Her mother, Elizabeth McNamara adds, "In a world that needs so much, just to a little bit to make a difference in someone's life is a very positive experience."

Watch Gigi Stone's report on "volunteer vacations" Saturday on "World News." Check your local listings for air time.

More Americans are choosing to go on philanthropic vacations -- along with their extra time and money. Globe Aware, the nonprofit group that organized the McNamaras' Cambodia trip, says enrollment has gone up 40 percent every year since the organization started in 2001.

Last year, more than 65,000 Americans traveled overseas to take part in volunteer vacations, estimates Stefanie Rubin, director of the International Volunteer Programs Association. Organizers say there was a surge of renewed interest after 9/11 and the Asian tsunami in 2004.

"I think it's got people thinking about the world: 'What's out there? What real need is out there?' And how they can connect and be a part of this beautiful world we're in?" says Kimberly Haley-Coleman, the executive director of Globe Aware. "I suspect that there is a growing contingent of people who feel that writing a check to an organization doesn't feel as significant as donating their time. Both are important."

It's not just overseas: After Hurricane Katrina, thousands of volunteers flocked to the Gulf region to help rebuild.

More companies are joining in as well by organizing charitable activities for their employees.